There’s been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth over the last few months, about how to deal with an infamous, far right social network site. Before I say anything else, I want to make it clear that my politics have been staunchly leftist and anti-racist since my childhood. I find the politics of the site in question appalling, and I have no intention of promoting their toxic brand, even when criticizing them, so I will refer to it here as Cess.pit.

 A little background. As my three regular readers will know, I’m an excitable champion of the federated social web, the fediverse to its fedizens. Unlike users in centralized platforms like FaceBook or Titter, users of the fediverse join an “instance” - a server running web software compatible with fediverse protocols like ActivityPub - but they can follow and communicate with users on other instances, run by completely different people. A few months ago, Cess.pit moved its users to a fork of Mastodon, one of the most popular of the various software projects that use ActivityPub, potentially allowing them to recruit from and harass users on other instances.

 The admins of many instances responded to news of this by adding cess.pit to their blocklists. This isn’t unusual. The servers that host our email use blocklists all the time against mailservers that send lots of spam or virus attachments. I believe that the power to block users and instances ultimately belongs in the hands of the users of social network software, but given the current state of federated network software, I’m fine with instance blocks. So long as they’re being used by admins to prevent things like spamming, flooding, and harassment, for the benefit of their users, not to police who their users can communicate with, for ideological reasons those users may not agree with.

  I think it’s worth pointing out that treating all Cess.pit users as if they were all committed fascist organizers does have downsides. A lot of young or politically naive people wander into online spaces like Cess.pit without really understanding how deep those particular rabbit holes go, and these are the “prospects” the actual fascists hope to indoctrinate and recruit. If Cess.pit is federated with at least some instances that aren’t full of fascists and sympathizers, prospects will be much more likely to get access to other perspectives, making it more likely that they will broaden their minds, realize who they’re hanging out with, and get out. If the only people users on Cess.pit can talk to is each other, chances are that actual fascists will find indoctrination and recruitment much easier.

 The other thing that happened is that the developers of Tusky, one of the mobile apps that can be used to connect to instances of Mastodon (and other fediverse software that uses the same system for communication between apps and servers), decided to add a blocklist to their code and add Cess.pit to it. I wasn’t the only person who was sympathetic to their reasons for doing this, but concerned about the possible unintended consequences. Let’s unpack that a bit.

 Let’s say a Bad Actor wants to shut down queer leftist GroupX and stop them communicating online. They publicly smear them as “terrorists” or “spreading kiddy porn” or whatever, and start approaching hosting platforms and software developers, demanding they take action to stop GroupX using their tools.

 Let’s say they approach Mozilla about building anti-GroupX blocks into Firefox, during the time when Brendon Eich was CEO. Brendan is going to say “no”. Because even though he’s right-leaning and may well disagree strongly with the politics of GroupX (which is why he was forced out of the CEO role at Mozilla), there is a longstanding principle in internet tech that we don’t implement political blocks at the level of code and network protocols. Those are decisions to be made autonomously by users (network or “bottom up” decision-making), not centrally by engineers or system administrators (pyramid or “top-down” decision-making).

 The principle does mean, in theory, that free code developed by leftist anarchists could end up getting used in some way by fascists. But unless you empower the state to maintain a register of fascists and stop them using the net at all, it’s unavoidable that they are indirectly using all sorts of free code, developed by people from all sorts of backgrounds, who have all sorts of reasons to be horrified by the idea of fascists using their code.

 When you stop and think about it though, its obvious that the opposite is going to happen much more often. Radical leftists do not develop the majority of free code software. Every day we are directly and indirectly using all sorts of free code, developed by people from all sorts of backgrounds, who have all sorts of reasons to be horrified by the idea of us using their code. But they don’t try to stop us, for the same reason I believe Brendan Eich would have said “no” in the hypothetical example above. They understand that the whole purpose of defending software freedoms is to prevent powerful groups from using their monopoly on the money and infrastructure that funds most software development, to enforce their politics on its users.

 So what happens when developers start implementing political blocks at the code level, as Tusky did? Do the ends justify the means?

 In the short term, even if every fediverse app followed the Tusky example, life becomes mildly inconvenient for the Cess.pit folks, who can just start distributing their own forks of their preferred apps from their own websites. In fact, they’ve now set up their own app store. No real harm been done to their operations. But in the long term, it starts to normalize the idea that its OK to use the roles of developer, engineer, or hosting provider, to police other people’s politics.

 Imagine if all the technical folks who disagree with radical left views started doing the same things to us, that some of us have done to the users of Cess.pit. Imagine centrist liberal CEOs at Mozilla, Goggle, Apple, and Microsoft, building blocklists of radical left websites and media outlets into Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Edge. Imagine we had to develop all our own software and host all our own infrastructure, and try to convince other users to only use fringe apps and hosting platforms that don’t have built in censorship of our politics. This is incredibly threatening to the radical left - far more threatening than Cess.pit itself.

 This is why a lot of people in the ethical tech community disagreed with the Tusky dev’s decisions, even though we respected their right to make it, while the developers of other apps decided instead to respect the longstanding principle of political neutrality discussed above. This is why many of us were horrified when developers who chose not to hardcode blocks into their apps became the target of coercion by some radical leftists, like those who tried to get Fedilab removed from app stores by claiming its developers “explicitly chose to enable hatred and violence through their app”.

 These smear campaigns and false accusations are appalling in themselves, exactly the tactics of the Bad Actors I described above. But even worse, to the degree that they are successful in the short term, they risk massive damage to the prospects of the radical left in the longer term, for reasons described above. They also do massive damage to the sense of goodwill and common cause that convinces people who could earn massive salaries in the corporate tech industry, to spend their spare time - or take more precarious jobs - to write free code that benefits all human beings. Including radical leftists.

… and yes, sometimes including fascists. But for the reasons discussed above, I think the benefits of that far outweigh the costs.

Filed November 20th, 2019 under open social networks, free software, open source

No Comments

RSS

No comments yet.

Leave a comment

To comment on this blog you will need to log in or create an account first.
  • Annual Events

  • Digital Freedom Foundation
  • LibrePlanet
  • Aotearoa

  • Aotearoa Indymedia
  • BallaNZ
  • Creative Commons Aotearoa/ NZ
  • Creative Freedom Foundation
  • DigitalNZ
  • Enspiral
  • Fair Deal Coalition
  • GreenStage
  • InternetNZ
  • Island Bay World Service
  • Living Economies
  • Localise
  • Loomio
  • Matrix FM
  • Nicky Hagar
  • No Right Turn
  • NZ Council for Civil Liberties
  • NZ Makers
  • NZ Makers Map
  • NZ Māori Internet Society
  • NZ Open Source Awards
  • NZCommons
  • OASIS
  • Open Government Ninjas of NZ
  • Open Source Society of NZ
  • Open Standards NZ
  • Open Ur Eyes
  • Pacific Media Centre
  • Permaculture in NZ
  • PledgeMe
  • Radio Chomsky
  • Regulation
  • Scoop
  • Tech Liberty
  • Timebank Aotearoa
  • Transition Towns Aotearoa/ NZ
  • Uncensored Magazine
  • Waatea News
  • Waikato Linux Users Group
  • What If
  • Wiki NZ
  • Zenbu
  • archives

  • ArchiveTeam
  • Critical Commons
  • Ibiblio
  • Internet Archive Community Software Collection
  • Open Archives Initiative
  • Blogroll

  • Abject
  • Access Now
  • Ars Technica
  • BadScience
  • Banjo - RoboBlog
  • Boing Boing
  • Born out of Binary
  • Centre for Media and Democracy
  • Choke Point Project
  • Copyrighteous
  • Create Digital Music
  • Creative Commons International
  • Cryptogon
  • Digital Standards Organisations
  • Disinfo
  • E-Democracy
  • Electronic Privacy Information Center
  • Ever Vigilant
  • Freedom Box Foundation
  • Freedom of the Press Foundation
  • Gaming On Linux
  • Global Indymedia
  • Gondwanaland (Mike Linksvayer)
  • Institute for the Future of the Book
  • Institute of Network Cultures
  • Internet Governance Project
  • InternetNZ
  • Island Bay World Service
  • Iterating Towards Openness
  • Knowledge Ecology International
  • LinkedListCorruption
  • Linuxed - Exploring Linux Distros
  • Localise
  • Moved by Freedom - Powered By Standards
  • Nanowares
  • New Zealand Māori Internet Society
  • Nicky Hagar
  • No Right Turn
  • NZ Council for Civil Liberties
  • NZCommons
  • O'Reilly Radar
  • OASIS
  • OERu Technology Blog
  • Open Educational Resources Foundation
  • Open Knowledge Foundation
  • Open Rights Group
  • Open Social Web
  • Open Source Conscious Intelligence Network
  • Open Source Food
  • Open Stand
  • Open Ur Eyes
  • OpenCollective
  • OpenDotDotDot
  • OpenSource.com
  • Permaculture in NZ
  • Plumi
  • Public Interest Journalism Foundation
  • Punk Rock Permaculture
  • Question Copyright
  • Replicant (OS)
  • Rob Meyers
  • Schneier on Security
  • Scoop
  • Shareable
  • Slashdot
  • Software Freedom Law Centre
  • Software in the Public Interest
  • SourceMap
  • Sustento Institute
  • Tech Liberty
  • TechRights
  • The Tin Hat
  • Tinkering Down Under
  • TorrentFreak
  • TransitionMovement
  • Translation Project
  • Trisquel GNU/ Linux
  • United Diversity
  • Waatea News
  • We Speak for Freedom
  • Why Your Boss is Programmed To Be a Dictator
  • code bank

  • Allura
  • BitBucket
  • FusionForge
  • GITHub
  • GITLab
  • Gogs
  • Internet Archive Community Software Collection
  • LaunchPad
  • NotABug
  • Savannah
  • Software Freedom Conservancy
  • Software Heritage
  • Sourceforge
  • community economics

  • Commons Transition
  • Fruit Tree Planting Foundation
  • In Our Back Yards
  • Institute for Local Self-Reliance
  • Libre-Living
  • Living Economies
  • Sensorica
  • Sustainable Economy Law Centre
  • Timebank Aotearoa
  • TransitionMovement
  • cooperative

  • Loomio
  • Snowdrift Coop
  • crowdfunding

  • ArtistShare
  • BountySource
  • Causes
  • CauseVox
  • Crowdfunder
  • Crowdjustice
  • Crowdrise
  • Crowdsupply
  • Flattr
  • Fundit.buzz
  • GiveaLittle
  • Goteo
  • In Our Back Yards
  • KickStarter
  • KissKissBankBank
  • Liberapay
  • Mighty Cause
  • OpenGift
  • Patreon
  • PledgeMe
  • PledgeMusic
  • Pozible
  • Snowdrift Coop
  • StartSomeGood
  • Taproot Foundation
  • The Working World
  • Tidelift
  • Events

  • IndieWebCamp
  • free code

  • April
  • Black Duck Open Hub
  • DistroWatch
  • Ever Vigilant
  • F-Droid
  • Free Software Directory (GNU FDL 1.3 or later)
  • Free Software Support Network
  • Free Software Support Network
  • Free Your Android
  • FreshCode
  • Gogs
  • Gun.io
  • Internet Archive Community Software Collection
  • LILA
  • LinuxTracker
  • NotABug
  • OERu Technology Blog
  • Peers Community
  • Plumi
  • PublicLab
  • Replicant (OS)
  • Software Heritage
  • Urchn Studios
  • Free Media

  • Communes Collective
  • Copyrighteous
  • Create Digital Music
  • Definition of Free Cultural Works
  • Dyne Foundation
  • FLOSSManuals
  • Free Culture Foundation
  • Ibiblio
  • Librivox
  • LILA
  • Open Video Conference
  • Show Me Do
  • Translation Project
  • Urchn Studios
  • WikiLeaks
  • freelancing

  • BountySource
  • Gun.io
  • independent media

  • Aotearoa Indymedia
  • BallaNZ
  • EngageMedia
  • Freedom of the Press Foundation
  • LILA
  • Matrix FM
  • Pacific Media Centre
  • Public Interest Journalism Foundation
  • Radio Chomsky
  • Radio Heritage Foundation
  • Uncensored Magazine
  • Waatea News
  • libre gaming

  • Gaming On Linux
  • Makers

  • GreenStage
  • Libre-Living
  • Mediamatic
  • NZ Makers
  • NZ Makers Map
  • Open ROV
  • Renewable PCs
  • Rob Meyers
  • Sensorica
  • maps

  • GeoForAll
  • GeoNames
  • Green Map System
  • Map Tools
  • Open Geospatial Foundation
  • Open Street Map
  • open governance

  • Crowdfunding
  • D-Cent
  • Deep Democracy Institute International
  • E-Democracy
  • Fight for the Future
  • Holacracy
  • Internet Governance Project
  • Kettering Foundation
  • Knowledge Sharing Toolkit (CC-BY-SA 3.0)
  • Open Government Ninjas of NZ
  • Open Policy Network
  • Open Space World (CC-BY-SA 2.5)
  • Open Stand
  • Open Standards NZ
  • Participedia
  • Sunlight Foundation
  • Transition Towns Aotearoa/ NZ
  • What If
  • WikiLeaks
  • open hardware

  • H-Node
  • Makey Makey
  • Meeblip Open Source Bass Synth
  • Open Hardware Summit
  • Open ROV
  • Open Source Hardware Association
  • Orgs

  • Access Now
  • Apache Foundation
  • April
  • Autistici/Inventati
  • Collaborative Knowledge Foundation
  • Commons Transition
  • Communes Collective
  • Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
  • Creative Commons Aotearoa/ NZ
  • Creative Freedom Foundation
  • Critical Commons
  • D-Cent
  • Deep Democracy Institute International
  • Digital Due Process coalition
  • Digital Freedom Foundation
  • Digital Standards Organisations
  • DigitalNZ
  • Dyne Foundation
  • E-Democracy
  • Electronic Frontiers Foundation
  • Electronic Privacy Information Center
  • Fair Tracing Project
  • Fight for the Future
  • Foundation for Peer-to-Peer Alternatives
  • Free Culture Foundation
  • Free Network Foundation
  • Free Software Foundation
  • Free Software Support Network
  • Free Software Support Network
  • Freedom of the Press Foundation
  • Guifi
  • Ibiblio
  • Identity Commons
  • Institute for Local Self-Reliance
  • Internet Engineering Taskforce
  • Internet Governance Project
  • ISA Commons
  • Kettering Foundation
  • LEAP Encryption Access Project
  • LILA
  • Living Economies
  • Loomio
  • May First/ People Link
  • Mediamatic
  • NZ Māori Internet Society
  • NZ Open Source Awards
  • Open Architecture Network
  • Open Archives Initiative
  • Open Geospatial Foundation
  • Open Policy Network
  • Open Source Hardware Association
  • Open Source Society of NZ
  • Open Web Foundation
  • OpenADR Alliance
  • OpenCorporates
  • Outreachy
  • Participatory Culture Foundation
  • Peers Community
  • Permaculture in NZ
  • Privacy International
  • Public Citizen
  • Public Interest Journalism Foundation
  • Public Knowledge
  • Public Patent Foundation
  • Question Copyright
  • Radio Heritage Foundation
  • ReDecentralize
  • Reform Government Surveillance
  • Regulation
  • Rhizome
  • RiseUp
  • Science Commons
  • Software Carpentry Foundation
  • Software Freedom Conservancy
  • Sunlight Foundation
  • Sustainable Economy Law Centre
  • Taproot Foundation
  • Transition Towns Aotearoa/ NZ
  • Waikato Linux Users Group
  • Wiki NZ
  • World Wide Web Consortium (WC3)
  • Xiph.org
  • XMPP Standards Foundation
  • Peer2Peer

  • BitCoin
  • FreeCoin
  • Permaculture

  • Appropedia (CC-BY-SA 3.0)
  • Fruit Tree Planting Foundation
  • Future Scenarios
  • OrganicDesign
  • Permaculture in NZ
  • TransitionMovement
  • We Speak for Freedom
  • Privacy

  • Access Now
  • Digital Due Process coalition
  • Ever Vigilant
  • Fight for the Future
  • International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance
  • LEAP Encryption Access Project
  • OASIS
  • Privacy International
  • Reform Government Surveillance
  • What If
  • protocols and licensing

  • Definition of Free Cultural Works
  • Digital Standards Organisations
  • Greenlots
  • ISA Commons
  • Open Archives Initiative
  • Open Stand
  • Open Standards NZ
  • Open Web Foundation
  • OpenADR Alliance
  • Regular Events

  • Libre Graphics Meeting
  • Open Hardware Summit
  • science and datasets

  • AllTrials
  • Collaborative Knowledge Foundation
  • DigitalNZ
  • Fair Tracing Project
  • ISA Commons
  • Open Geospatial Foundation
  • Open Hand Project
  • SourceMap
  • Wiki NZ
  • Zooniverse
  • Tools

  • Autistici/Inventati
  • BitCoin
  • Black Duck Open Hub
  • CoActivate
  • Crowdfunding
  • DistroWatch
  • Dyne Foundation
  • F-Droid
  • FLOSSManuals
  • Fork the Cookbook
  • FreeCoin
  • GITHub
  • GNU Operating System
  • GreenStage
  • H-Node
  • How To Escape the GoogleMax Panopticon
  • Knowledge Sharing Toolkit (CC-BY-SA 3.0)
  • LEAP Encryption Access Project
  • LinuxTracker
  • Loomio
  • Map Tools
  • May First/ People Link
  • Meeblip Open Source Bass Synth
  • Monolith
  • Open Hand Project
  • Open Source Ecology
  • Open Space World (CC-BY-SA 2.5)
  • Open Street Map
  • OpenCorporates
  • OpenMailBox
  • Participatory Culture Foundation
  • Plumi
  • Renewable PCs
  • Replicant (OS)
  • RiseUp
  • Savannah
  • Show Me Do
  • Sourceforge
  • SourceMap
  • TransforMap
  • Translation Project
  • Web Platform
  • Zenbu
  • Transition

  • Green Map System
  • Health After Oil
  • Localise
  • OrganicDesign
  • Wiki

  • Appropedia (CC-BY-SA 3.0)
  • Foundation for Peer-to-Peer Alternatives
  • Instructables
  • LibrePlanet
  • Open (Government) NZ
  • Participedia
  • SourceWatch
  • WikiEducator
  • wireless mesh

  • Guifi
  • workplace democracy

  • Enspiral
  • The Working World